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What You Need to Know About Medical Alert Devices

Senior Health Posts on Staying Put at Home Blog

Having the security of a medical alert device or personal emergency response system (PERS) in your home can help you feel more confident about Aging in Place, as you’ll have somebody available in case of emergency. In a 2005 survey, 75.6% of participants said they felt more secure with a medical alert device.1 This week, Staying Put at Home looks at what a medical alert device is and what you need to know before getting one.

What is A Medical Alert Device?

Are you afraid of falling at home? Are you apprehensive about staying in your house because of this? Medical alert devices are designed to address this concern. These appliances usually include a pendant that you can wear around your wrist or neck and a base station that is plugged into your wall. In case of emergency, you can push a button on your pendant, which will send a signal to your base station, alerting your dispatcher that you are in distress.

What Questions You Should Ask About a Medical Alert Device

Not all medical alert devices offer the same services. Think about what you are looking for in a medical alert device and make sure you get the one that suits your home and your needs. We’ve gathered a few questions you should ask to help find out which medical alert device is your best option:

  • Is my monitoring station open 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Who does it notify when my button is pushed? What is the dispatcher’s training? What is their response time?
  • Does my medical alert device use a landline or is it cellular? (This is important if you do not have a landline in your home.)
  • How far is the range of my medical alert system? Will my pendant work from anywhere in my home?
  • Do I install my medical alert device or does your company have someone who will do this? If you do have an installer, will you charge me extra to install it in my home?
  • Do I own my medical alert device? Am I just leasing it? What happens if my equipment is damaged? Is it waterproof?
  • Does my device come with automatic fall detection?
  • Is a mobile 911 phone included with purchase of the medical alert device?
  • Is it certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL)?


Most medical alert systems cost $25-$75 per month.2 Be wary of any company that charges less than this amount, as they may be cutting corners and not providing you with valuable benefits. Some companies will charge a setup fee, which usually costs $50-$200. Although Medicare will generally not cover the cost of medical alert systems, some state Medicaid programs will assist in payment. For example, HCBS waivers and Consumer Directed Services can be used to fund your medical alert system.3

Read the Fine Print

Inspect your contract carefully before you sign it. Many medical alert systems use long-term contracts that do not have an opt-out clause, trapping you with a system and payment plan you may not want. Some companies will charge you if your medical alert device’s button is accidentally pushed and triggers a false alarm. Other companies may not call 911 if the button is pushed, thereby leaving you stranded in case of emergency. Cancellation policies also differ between some companies, so you might not be able to cancel immediately. Make sure you know exactly what you are signing up for by checking to find out if a medical alert system’s company has had any recalls or complaints.

Beware of Scams

In 2013, a story made the rounds about calls offering free life alert systems to seniors. If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. These scams will often cold-call seniors and pressure them to provide bank account and social security information. They will often use generic names like “Medical Alert USA” and “Medical Alert Systems” to trick people into believing they are legitimate.

In 2014, the scam returned. This time, though, it was an automated message telling seniors that they were entitled to a free device and $3,000 worth of coupons. They instructed seniors to press 1 if they wanted more information and press 5 if they wanted to be taken off the call list. If this happens to you, hang up. If you press 5, the scammers will know that your phone number is working, and they will bombard you with more calls.

We hope that this article has clarified some of the questions about medical alert devices. There are many medical alert companies out there, and we advise you to do your research to find out which one works for you.

  1. Use of Personal Emergency Response Systems by Older Individuals with Disabilities | Return to Text
  2. Medicaid and Personal Emergency Response Services / Personal Safety Monitors | Return to Text
  3. Medicaid and Personal Emergency Response Services / Personal Safety Monitors – HCBS Waivers | Return to Text
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